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Raping the Bill of Rights

Much to my dismay, I saw little notice, let alone celebrations, around the country on the recent 221st anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Those initial ten amendments to the Constitution guarantee our most essential individual liberties.

But on the occasion the Wall Street Journal ran “U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens,” a front-page story by Julia Angwin. She reported that Attorney General Eric Holder—without a peep of protest from President Obama—signed rules that “now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice.”

So much for due process and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of privacy. Moreover, Angwin noted, “The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.” And if that wasn’t enough to shock Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in their graves, “The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own.” For future crimes by us.

But why now snatch the very heart of the Bill of Rights and throw it into the incinerator? You must have guessed why, and the Wall Street Journal was on it: “Under the new rules issued in March [2012],” Angwin reported, “the National Counterterrorism Center, known as NCTC, can obtain almost any database the government collects that it says is ‘reasonably believed’ to contain ‘terrorism information.’ The list could potentially include almost any government database, from financial forms submitted by people seeking federally backed mortgages to the health records of people who sought treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals.”

“Reasonably believed”? By what criteria? And will those “suspicious” people even know they’re in one of these databases, which could conceivably stigmatize them for the rest of their lives? And since all of this is done secretly, these citizens will have no chance to defend themselves.

Did you know about this “forced retirement” of our Constitution? One former senior administration official told Angwin that it’s “breathtaking” in its scope. Of course, he didn’t reveal his name. And where was the rest of the media? I saw little about this elsewhere.

I have more questions on this sudden flashing red light vis-à-vis what has been eroding this self-governing republic’s very reason for being since 9/11: In how many of our classrooms have future voters been told about how Obama and Holder—along with Bush and Cheney before them—have wholly betrayed their oath of office to protect the Constitution? And if there have been any discussions, how many students or teachers are concerned about or even sensitive to what this country is turning into?

In one of the few other coverages of this rape of the Bill of Rights, Wired magazine posted on its website an article titled “Attorney General Secretly Granted Gov. Ability to Develop and Store Dossiers on Innocent Americans.” Author Kim Zetter pointed out that “the request to expand the [National Counterterrorism] center’s powers led to a heated debate at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, with Mary Ellen Callahan—then-chief privacy officer for the Department of Homeland Security—leading the charge to defend civil liberties. Callahan argued that the new rules represented a ‘sea change’ and that every interaction a citizen would have with the government in the future would be ruled by the underlying question, is that person a terrorist?

“Callahan lost her battle, however, and subsequently left her job, though it’s not known if her struggle over the NCTC debate played a role in her decision to leave.”

Have there been any related resignations from the Obama Administration, whose blatant disregard for privacy is making America more like China and Iran than what used to be an admired land of liberty?

I’m intensely interested in whether there have been any classroom or workplace debates on this throttling of who we are. Then again, how many Americans even remember who we’re supposed to be?

If Eric Holder hasn’t already added me to one of his lists of “suspicious” citizens, I expect he already knows my address.

 

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